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Juvenile Justice Department To Open New Youth Center In Lincoln

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The former Lincoln Developmental Center in Lincoln was closed in 2002.

The Pritzker administration has announced a new center for incarcerated youth is coming to central Illinois.

The Illinois Youth Center will be at the site of a previously shuttered Lincoln Developmental Center in Lincoln. It’s part of a broader plan within the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) to reduce the harm of juvenile incarceration, using a community-based, rehabilitative, and restorative model.

About 40% of youths committed to IDJJ come from central Illinois.

“So all of the kids who come from that area are housed either far north in the state, near Chicago, or in the far southern part of the state. They’re housed several hours away from their families,” said Heidi Mueller, director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

Mueller said she is grateful the administration has prioritized reforms that will bring restoration and investments to the youths, communities and the state of Illinois.

"I appreciate the leadership of the Pritzker administration for being forward-thinking in transforming the lives of youth within the IDJJ system through an innovative model," said state Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican whose district includes Lincoln.

Mueller said the IDJJ had not previously invested in central Illinois.

“We really are looking to invest more of our resources in building capacity in central Illinois communities to support kids in those communities,” she said.

The IDJJ partners with The Youth Advocacy Program that Mueller called a "fantastic community-serving organization that provides evidence-based mentoring and intensive wraparound services, advocacy, job training and educational development for kids.

“We've had super great success with the limited numbers of youth that we've been able to refer. We would like to invest in that partnership and expand those kinds of services. And in particular, in places like Peoria, Champaign, Springfield, Decatur and Lincoln, where we sometimes struggle to find good, intensive community services for our kids.”

The future Illinois Youth Center in Lincoln will house up to 30 youths.

“What we will probably start with is a mix of probably younger or more vulnerable kids who really would benefit the most from being really close to family where we could do family therapy,” said Mueller. “That will kind of guide us at least initially.”

Mueller said money for the renovations come from the Capitol Development Board. About $60 million is allocated in the budget for renovations and construction. 

The future center will feature dormitory housing-style units, programming and administrative areas, as well as newly-constructed educational, recreational and dietary spaces. Muller said about 50-70 jobs will be generated from the new facility.

“We think sizewise, this facility is kind of closest to our Pere Marquette facility, which is in Grafton, Illinois. There will be negotiation around how many of those slots need to be held for transfers or people who are already employed by IDJJ,” said Mueller. “We have some staff who are working in other facilities now who are from the Lincoln, Springfield area originally. And of course they are very eager to get back closer to home.”

The official plans for the new facility in Lincoln were announced at the Feb. 1 Lincoln City Council meeting.

“Lincoln's geographic location makes it the perfect place for this facility,” said Tracy Welch, acting mayor of Lincoln. “Not only will the new Illinois Youth Center better serve those committed youth from central Illinois, and their families, by having them located closer to home but it will also stimulate the local economy by creating new jobs, attracting new community members, and generating additional revenue for the city that can be used towards things such as road repairs and improved public services.”

Mueller said the IDJJ is excited about building specifically in Lincoln,where the former development center closed in 2002. Architectural and engineering services for the renovation will be provided by Cordogan & Clark.

“This opportunity to really partner with the community there. To utilize this property that we know has been sitting kind of wasted for years and years. The folks in the community that we hear from are really eager to have it revitalized and have a purpose again,” said Welch.


The plan is currently in Phase One, seeking feedback and refining the renovation plan. 

“We've had several virtual roundtables with everyone from youth and families who have been impacted by the system to juvenile court judges,” said Mueller. “We just completed two different roundtables with juvenile probation departments. We'll be hosting round tables for state's attorneys, public defenders, advocates and we are also meeting with folks in the community.”

Phase Two and Three are to begin later this year. They will continue the regional reinvestments and the official launch of IDJJ’s new Community Services Division. That will focus on providing youth with intensive, wraparound mentoring, educational, therapeutic and vocational support within their communities as an alternative to incarceration where possible.

“We really gave ourselves the first year to take the time to be very thoughtful and planful about what we were doing. So what we've been doing since we announced this transformation at the end of July, is really trying to gather feedback and ideas and recommendations from different stakeholders around the state,” said Mueller. “Since we're right at the very beginning of the project, there has not been a lot of dollars invested in the renovation.”

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